Meet Our AHS Elders

Elders are valued members of the Aboriginal Head Start village. They bring knowledge and experience of our First Nations, Inuit and Métis cultures and languages to the children, families and staff in the urban preschools across BC. We invite you to share our appreciation for all their gifts and teachings.

Keepers of Our Knowledge

Traditionally, our villages centered around the children, with Elders as their primary teachers. Aboriginal Head Start programs actively involve parents, families and Elders in teaching the young children about who they are and celebrating their identities. As our respected ‘Knowledge Keepers,’ Elders are the greatest resource for providing cultural experiences for the entire community.

Culture & Languages taught at AHS programs in BC

Beaver/ Dene; Chilcotin/ Tsilhqot'in; Cree/ Michif; Dakelh/ Carrier; Gitksan/ Gitxsan; Haida; Halkomelem/ Halq'eméylem/ Hul’q’umi’num; Kwak’wala; Nisga’a; Shuswap/ Secwépemc; Smalagyx / Sm'álgyax/ Tsimshian; St’átl’imx / St’át’imcets

Grandmother and Grandfather Elders

In 2012 the Aboriginal Head Start Association of BC grew stronger. Our Elders were asked to formally participate in our Association as members and leaders. At our meeting in January, a group of Elders elected the first Grandmother Elder, Caroline Daniels, and Grandfather Elder, Willie Alphonse, to sit on the AHSABC Executive Committee. We thank them for the guidance and leadership they share with us to grow and learn in a caring way.

“The AHSABC Grandmother and Grandfather Elders ensure that the traditional knowledge and protocol is shared and followed and practiced at the Board and Executive… Elders will guide the group as knowledge keepers to making respectful and informed decisions.” - excerpt from AHSABC Terms of Reference Manual, revised May 2012

Grandmother Elder Jackie Finnie (Comox Valley AHS)

“Every child deserves an education and I will do anything I can to help them realize their potential. Watching children blossom and learn gives your life such meaning... I love our Head Start program – the only way I could love it more is if it were available for every child in Canada!"

Grandfather Elder Willie Alphonse (Little Moccasins Learning Centre AHS)
Shuswap/ Chilcotin

“Working with children is important to me since the young ones listen to my songs and what I have to say to them. I teach a little bit of language, drumming and singing, a bit of dancing. My most memorable moment was being asked to represent our Head Start program on the Gift of the Elders video."

Elders in Our Programs

Here are some of the ways our Elders contribute to the AHS program…

Prince Rupert AHS in Prince Rupert


Ben Spencer (Tsimshian); Retired Elders Margaret Adkins (Haida) and Ben & Thelma Hill (Tsimshian)

Ben Spencer is from Kitkatla and belongs to the Tsimshian Nation. His crest is Eagle and his traditional name is Lawilwel. He belongs to the Suugyigyet Dance group and is a language teacher and also a Role Model for School District 52 (Prince Rupert). Ben teaches about harvesting of traditional foods and medicines, traditional language, and so much more. Ben takes pride in in his cultural background and loves to share his knowledge with the children in our program.

For many years, Margaret Adkins involved the students in drumming and dancing, and taught them Haida songs and language. From 1997 to 2012, Ben and Thelma Hill were involved with Cedar Road AHS in Prince Rupert. They brought their Tsimshian culture alive for the young children through language and storytelling. These well-loved Elders retired last year and will be missed.

Qwallayuw AHS in Campbell River

Sophie Hansen (Kwiakah)

Elder Sophie teaches the Kwakwala language at Qwallayuw AHS and she has published a children’s book called The Crow and The Raven. She invites members of her Elders Group in Campbell River to join her at Circle time in Qwallayuw AHS. Sometimes she brings the children to sing a song in Kwakwala for the Elders at the Friendship centre.

“I enjoy teaching the children the language because they are such good listeners. It is so rewarding. Plus I hope I’m helping them get a good start in their lives… The children have given me many names over the years, such as Gamma, Soapy, Fofie, and the BEST one is Nufie!” – Sophie Hansen (Tla qwath kan awuR)

Little Moccasins Learning Centre AHS in Williams Lake


Willie Alphonse (Shuswap/Chilcotin); Ella Gilbert (Shuswap); Cecelia DeRose (Shuswap); George Keener (Shuswap/Chilcotin); Lenny English (Chilcotin); Mary Lucier (Métis)


Wayne & Arnold Lucier (Métis); Ralph & Minnie Phillips (Shuswap); Victorine Alphonse (Shuswap)

Elder Willie Alphonse teaches the children in the Williams Lake centre the Chilcotin language. While he drums, they sing The Greeting Song and The Number Song (these songs are written up in the December page of the AHS Cultural Calendar). Willie also performs The Honour Song in the movie called Gift of the Elders.

“Language is the most important thing for children to learn – it was lost to us in Residential School and foster homes. Lots of Elders understand the language but can’t speak it in a sentence. That’s not necessary to teach the children. Start with simple pictures of animals, charts of word, calendars… they pick it up quickly." - Willie Alphonse, Little Moccasins Elder

Shuswap Elder Ella Gilbert makes smudging part of the children’s routine at Little Moccasins. This is also shown in The Gift of the Elders movie.

“We’re losing the Shuswap language fast, so I think the little ones are our only hope for the language.” – Cecelia de Rose

George Keener has been President of the Cariboo Friendship Society since it opened in the 60’s. He comes in once a week to drum with both our morning and afternoon classes. George sings Honour Song, Welcome Song, Beauty, Haida Paddle and the Métis Song.

Chilcotin Elder Lenny English lives across from Little Moccasins and visits a few times per week. Lenny attends all field trips and PAC meetings. He tells the children stories of his family’s history and his rodeo days and takes the children for rides on his horse drawn wagon.

The Luciers are a Métis family in our AHS community. Elder Mary Lucier teaches her language and crafts to our children. She has had two Great Grandchildren attend our program. Wayne and Arnold Lucier are in charge of the Métis events in our area. They play music at our year end celebration every year and have us come out for the Métis picnic.

Ralph and Minnie Phillips are Shuswap Elders who take us on Cultural field trips and join us in the class whenever possible. They have taught some language and enjoy playing Indian Bingo.

Victorine Alphonse invites us to her home where she serves the children *Indian Ice Cream* and takes the children on a tour of her sweat lodge.

*Indian Ice Cream* is a dessert made by Native people throughout the Pacific Northwest region of North America. It is made by crushing Soapberries (or Buffalo berries). The liquid produced is mixed with equal parts of water and whipped with a whisk to make a foamy substance similar in texture to whipped cream. Sometimes it is sweetened with salal berries, thimbleberries, or other berries in season, but many people use sugar. Traditionally this foam was served as a treat at summer gatherings and feasts.

Comox Valley AHS in Courtenay


Phil Umpherville (Woodland Cree); Jo Loukes (Métis Swampy Cree); Jackie Finnie (Métis); Christina Cox (Kyuquot); Annie Joseph (Kwakwala)

Our Elders are important advisors to staff and parents of our Head Start preschool. They are involved in planning the cultural calendar and special events, such as graduation ceremonies. They often open celebrations and meetings with a prayer, and help with traditional protocol for cultural events, as well as teaching the children in the classroom.

Phil Umpherville and Jo Loukes, are two of the Elders in the Comox Valley AHS who tell the children stories about traditional ways of life.

“I was born in Manitoba, and raised in the small northern village of Brochet where my father trapped and hunted during winter, and fished commercially in summer. My ancestors were Cree, Métis, English and French. As a storyteller, I am honored to share what I have learned of the knowledge, beliefs, traditions and wisdom of all North American First Nations cultures. The Great Spirit smiles upon us all. May you walk in peace, happiness and prosperity on your life’s journey.” – Phil Umpherville (Bearchild)

Auntie Jackie teaches respect for the drum as she helps students (with their parents) to create their own drum that will go home with them after graduation.

“Working with children is important to me because they are our future! What we give them now is what we will get back from them later. Build in respect and it grows!” – Jackie Finnie (Auntie)

Christina Cox has been an Elder providing support to families for over 15 years. Christina was born in Friendly Cove, and raised in Kyuquot, and is their hereditary chief. She has one daughter, 3 grandchildren, and 7 great grandchildren. The tradition of cedar basket weaving was passed to Christina from her mother and she used to gather her own cedar. Now she teaches the children at CVAHS to weave baskets.

Annie Joseph is a member of the First Nation Dtwad Kingcome Inlet. She has 5 children, 20 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren. Annie teaches Kwakwala language classes at the Comox Valley Head Start preschool, as well as at the Wachiay Friendship Centre.

Future 4 Nations AHS in Mission


Herman Dan (Stl'atl'imx); Elsie Norquay-Brown (Saulteaux); Thelma Storoziek (Saulteaux); Sally Francis (Musqueam); Florence Louie (Xaxli'p)

Lillooet Elder, Herman Dan Sr., has many talents that he shares with our Future 4 Nations Head Start community. He sings and plays his guitar with the children at circle time, plays a harmonica and he has made moccasins. Herman tells the children stories about his history; for example, he shows them how they used to make a light when there was no electricity by bringing in a candle and a coffee can with a coat hanger.

Sisters, Elsie and Thelma, are from the Saulteaux Nation of the Ojibway tribes. They started coming to Head Start with their grandchildren and didn’t want to leave. The sisters bring beading, donate crafts, and have learned how to make cedar headbands. They love to make bannock and say the prayer of thanks with the children at snacktime. They are like part of the staff and it’s always nice to have them come in.

Elder Sally Francis brings her loom and wool to demonstrate how she creates blankets and wall hangings in the traditional designs. Sally also brings her gentleness; as she sits in the classroom with the children and quietly works with her weaving, the children will join her and sit and watch while she shares her stories. Sally also shares her knowledge of medicinal plants with the AHS community.

Florence Louie loves to attend events at Future 4 Nations AHS. She supports staff and other Elders in our preschool, as well as being on the Mission Education Department Elders committee.

Kermode AHS in Terrace


Martin Adams (Nisga'a)

Kermode HS Elder, Martin Adams shares stories about his Nisga’a background and brings his regalia to show the children in Terrace. He also teaches children the Nisga’a language, such as counting, colours and familiar words.

Prince George AHS in Prince George


Beverly Joseph (Simpew/Nak’Azdli); Larry Aubichon (Métis); Sharon Popesco

Beverly Joseph is an Early Childhood Educator and Cultural Teacher in our program. Bev grew up in the Shushwaps and traditionally is Simpew. When she married her husband many moons ago, she was blessed to expand her Aboriginal culture to be part of his Carrier ancestry – the Nak’Azdli Band. Bev teaches the Carrier language and culture to our children.

Larry Aubichon is a dedicated driver and cook for both Prince George sites. He is Métis and has worked under the PGNFC umbrella for about 10 years. Larry continues to take great pride in providing moose and fish for his family by hunting and fishing with his grown boys.

Sharon Popesco is the Aboriginal Supported Child Development support staff at our site. Although Sharon is not of Aboriginal Ancestry, we have adopted her into our culture as an Elder in the Bear Clan.

We are very fortunate to have a large group of Métis Elders who teach the Cree language and crafts to our children and the children at Power of Friendship AHS, the other Head Start program in Prince George.